The Edmund O’Neal Middle School of Excellence in Albany has joined the United Community Schools initiative, a network providing school-based educational, emotional, health and social services to children and their families.
The 500-student junior high becomes the United Community Schools’ 32nd full-service community school, and the first located outside of New York City.
“We welcome the O’Neal Middle School to our United Community Schools family,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the sponsoring organization of the United Community Schools initiative. "Teachers know that addressing children's physical and emotional needs can make a major difference in their lives, in and out of school. That's why we as an organization are committed to the community schools movement."
“The City School District of Albany is pleased to partner with United Community Schools at Edmund J. O’Neal Middle School of Excellence, and we look forward to working together to provide O’Neal students and families with services tailored to their needs,” said Michele Bridgewater, who is the school district’s director of school improvement and supervises its six community schools.
O'Neal Principal David Bernsley said the 6-8 middle school hoped to leverage the UCS initiative to “provide unique opportunities and experiences that will enrich our students and families lives as well as linking the community and families together to strengthen and build up our community.”
Founded in 2012 by the United Federation of Teachers, United Community Schools (UCS) operates the largest non-profit community school network in New York City. Having started with just six schools, UCS has grown to a network of 32 schools with more than 20,000 students in all five boroughs of New York City and now Albany.
United Community Schools seeks to eliminate the educational, emotional, social and health barriers that can stand in the way of learning. On-site UCS community school directors/site coordinators mobilize the expertise, energy and resources of local community organizations to provide services students and parents need.
“We are excited to work with the City School District of Albany and feel our O’Neal Middle School students are going to have a wonderful year,” said Karen Alford, UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools and point person of the UCS initiative. “Our O’Neal students will be matched with student mentors from local colleges, they will learn new social-emotional skills through an art therapy program, they will create a student art gallery to enhance school culture and climate, and they will celebrate the holidays with 900 toys in a Toys for Tots program,” she said.
UCS’s partnership at O'Neal in the 2019-20 school year will build on the extensive community school strategies already initiated by the O’Neal faculty and by the Albany school district.
The City School District of Albany provides a full-time behavioral clinician from the Behavioral Health Center at Northern Rivers Family Services to address students’ emotional or behavioral concerns. The on-site clinic provides students and families with free, consistent, accessible mental health support.
“Together we are creating new opportunities for our students and their families,” said Julianna Obie, the community school site coordinator at O’Neal, who has helped develop parent workshops for O’Neal and opened a family welcome center so “parents understand they are front and center to all the work we do,” she said.